A new phase in action for separated children and child soldiers in Angola

News and Press Release
Originally published
Work intensifies to support child soldiers
(LUANDA, ANGOLA, 7 March 2003) - The Angolan Government, UNICEF and civil society partners today re-affirmed their policy to former child soldiers and separated children. A Round Table on the Challenges of Child Rights Protection in the Process of Reintegration, organised today by the Ministry of Assistance and Social Reinsertion, formalised the commitment to protect and enhance the rights of all Angolan children and to intensify efforts in birth registration, family tracing and reunification, education and training.

UNICEF endorses the strategy of the Ministry of Social Assistance, that considers the problematic of the child direct victim of the armed conflict, in the global context of the Country new status. The strategy for the protection of the rights of the child constitutes a package of measures and mechanisms identified by Angola to implement Article 39 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, namely the right of children victims of the conflict to phisical and psycho-social recovery, as well as their social reintegration.

In the peace context that Angola now lives, the question of the child directly affected by the conflict is being seen in the board of global answers to the victims of war in general. In this board, the appropriate measures to stimulate the phisical and psychological recovery and the reintegration of all orphans, abandoned and children victims of armed conflict, aims the recuperation and reintegration in an environment that stimulates the self-esteem and the child's dignity.

The policy specifically addresses the needs of children in the former rebel UNITA reception areas and newly accessible areas. Its central highlight is to assist former child soldiers through access to a new, typical beginning, facilitated through access to identity and citizenship, family reunification and by boosting education and vocation opportunities.

Since the cessation of hostilities in April last year, UNICEF and the Angolan Government have been working to support some of the 100,000 children separated during Angola's 27-year war. This has been occurring via a national birth registration campaign and the creation of 'child friendly spaces' - specially designated areas of education and psychological assistance for children. The reaffirmation of the policy promises to increase return to school and learning opportunities, accelerate access to skills training and mentoring, and boost psychosocial support, family tracing and reunification, and rights to citizenship.

'We believe the greatest benefit former child soldiers can receive is to be reunited with their family, reintegrated into their community processes, and educated' said UNICEF Angola Representative Mario Ferrari. 'With birth certificates issued to 1.9 million children and Family Tracing and Reunification continuing, this agreement means all partners' efforts toward registration and education can now be intensified. The policy is very good, but now we must put it into full effect.'

The Angola's approach to child soldiers emanates from lessons learned both here and other parts of war-torn Africa, showing the demobilization of child soldiers to be both difficult and faulty.

'Past experience tells us that labelling child soldiers and providing them with demobilization benefit packages leads to stigmatisation within their community and hinders their quick and full reintegration,' said Abubacar Sultan, UNICEF's child protection officer in Angola. 'That is, expectations of benefits and compensation means they view themselves as soldiers, thus requiring to be given cash, tools and kits; and creating a psychological dependency to their condition of being a soldier. It is our aim not to single out former child soldiers because a child returning to a community with former combatant status and accompanied by materials would receive special, negative visibility and differences would be established with those children and refugees returning empty-handed. This creates the potential for further discrimination, and hinders the reintegration process.'

Perhaps the most fundamental component of lasting rehabilitation in Angola will be achieved by assisting all Angolan children to go to school and be educated, as children. UNICEF is currently supporting the biggest education campaign in Angola's history, reintroducing 250,000 children back into the school system, and improving schooling conditions for half a million.

UNICEF facilitates a working group - which includes Save the Children (UK), CCF and the ICRC - to support the Government of Angola in its programme for separated children. This culminated in a significant breakthrough when the Ministry of Defence committed to exclude any former child combatant from future recruitment into the army. However UNICEF and partners are working towards mechanisms that will ensure the agreed to exemption from military service will be satisfied.

Psychosocial support remains critical to former child soldiers and all separated children. UNICEF believes that the best assistance for these children will come from family and the community. 'Family reunification has proven therapeutic value as the child's reunion with his or her family helps overcome and addresses behavior and emotional problems,' says Abubacar Sultan. 'Studies in other former war zones have shown that symptoms related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder seem to disappear more rapidly once a child is successfully reunified and provided with care, nurture and love.'

At a community level, UNICEF encourages families, churches and local leaders to conduct positive traditional, religious or other community based ceremonies or cleansing practices that facilitate the child's psychosocial recovery. Such practices can contribute to remove the child's feelings of guilt and rejection, build self-esteem and promote a new sense in life.

'Of course there remain challenges in making known this approach to child soldiers,' said UNICEF Angola Representative Mario Ferrari, 'notably because it has little of the media appeal of the old 'gun for gift' schemes. However, this approach maintains one critical advantage - it works. Clearly a lot has still to be done to intensify the actions'

For further information, please contact:

Patricia Cervantes, Head of Information UNICEF Angola
(244) 91-501 943

James Elder, Communications Officer UNICEF Angola
(244) 91 - 219 524

Jose Luis Mendonca, Information Officer UNICEF Angola
(244) 2 - 332348 (ext 409)

UNICEF Angola Country Office
PO Box 2707 Luanda - Angola
Tel: 244 2 332 348